Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Ramblings on state assessments

School districts across the state of Michigan received a wonderful Holiday present from the Michigan Department of Education - preliminary state assessment results.  Individual student and aggregate results were accessible from the secure state website this week.  Public release of this year's results will not be far behind.

This year's results will cause a bit of a stir.  Proficiency has been recalculated so that it is no longer possible to receive a rating of "proficient" by answering only 17 of 65 questions correctly.  Yes - last year it was possible to answer less than 30% of the questions correct in some grade levels and on some tests and still be classified as proficient.

This year students will need to answer at least 65% of the questions correctly to be called proficient.  That is clearly a more accurate assessment of proficiency.

The larger question is what do these state assessments tell us.  The test is given in October and the results are typically released several months later.  Good teachers already have a sense of the strengths and weaknesses of their students.  So does the test really help classroom teachers?

If the conversations between teachers and parents have been frequent and honest, the results will probably not be too much of a shock to parents either.  My belief, and my hope, is that teachers have shared an accurate assessment of a child's performance with their parents so the MEAP probably gives little new information.

So if the state assessments are not really valuable for teachers or parents, for whom do they provide value?

The Michigan Department of Education uses the results to calculate Adequate Yearly Progress and to assign report card grades to schools and districts.  These measures are used by parents and the public to gain a sense of the relative strengths and weaknesses of a district.

Supporters and detractors of public schools use the results to either promote or disparage public schools.

In the end state assessments should be one piece of a larger puzzle that attempts to identify if students are learning.  Teachers and administrators must embrace the challenge of communicating if students are learning.  Schools exist to help students learn.  If we cannot demonstrate that the students who come to our schools are learning why should we expect the public to support us.

I understand that there are a lot of factors that contribute to student success. Parental involvement, community support, health, safety, and opportunities are just a few of the myriad of things that contribute to student success. As educators we must focus on the things that we can control - what goes on in a classroom each day, our attention to each student, our concern that every student makes progress.

External pressure - whether real or imagined from state assessments - is real. But our goal remains the same - educate every student who walks through the door.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Something else to worry about - but this is actually important

Average is over!  That's the title of a chapter is Thomas Friedman's and Michael Mandelbaum's relatively new book That Used to Be Us.  
What they say is somewhat disconcerting. "In a hyper-connected world . . ., what was 'average' work ten years ago is below average today, and will be further below average ten years from now. . . As a result, everyone needs to raise his or her game just to stay in place, let alone get ahead."
My job as the Superintendent of the Novi Community Schools is to prepare students to be successful in the world that they will live in. Friedman and Mandelbaum help me understand what that means.  
I can no longer focus on making sure my students have the basic skills.  Oh, those skills are still important and still need to be taught. The students in Novi need to know how to read, write, communicate, and compute.  
But I can't stop there. I have to help everyone in my district understand that, in the future, an average performance or an average skill set will no longer guarantee a middle class lifestyle. If my students, the students in my district, are going to have a chance to live the life they want they can no longer be satisfied with be "good enough."  I have to help my students understand that "average is over.!"
In the article The New Face of Global Competition in Fast Company the author states that companies learn that long-term prosperity depends on providing services of increasingly higher value.  It describes one company that goes out of its way to help its employees who have technical skills learn other skills - skills at building relationships - that help to set it apart from other companies. 
That's the challenge facing my school district. How can I teach my students that their future depends on both technical skills and the "extra" set of skills that will set them apart?
We've taken small steps in Novi.  At the elementary level we have embraced a concept called "The Leader in Me." Based on the work of Covey and the seven habits, we are trying to help our youngest students learn how to take responsibility for their life and success. Data notebooks, setting priorities, being reflective - these and other skills are being taught to the students in our K-6 buildings.
This is one small step in a much larger puzzle. Schools must embrace an ethos that focuses on helping our students learn more than how to read, write, and compute. Our district has to help students learn to add value to whatever job they do.
As I said, I now have something else to worry about. But this is actually important. 

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Middle School Orchestra


Students in Mrs. Rais' class sight read a new piece of music today. "Dark Vision" is a possible new piece for the orchestra. #novischools

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Science Experiments


Using colored water, a dropper, and a cup of pebbles students make predictions about how much water will fit in the cup. Next they will predict how much water will fit in a cup is sand.

What does it all mean?

The Washington Post recently ran a story about Ron Packard, the CEO of K12 Inc. earning a total compensation package of approximately $5 million dollars in fiscal 2011.  This is noteworthy because K12 Inc is the largest operator of full-time public virtual schools and presumably one of the cyber-schools that would seek to open in Michigan if the Michigan legislature votes to uncap the limit on cyber-schools.

Of course, in the Michigan legislature this fall a bill was introduced to limit the salary of school superintendents.  This proposed legislation failed to get out of committee.

The Michigan legislature also passed legislation this fall to require school employees to pay more for health insurance.

Why are lawmakers in Michigan intent on trying to rein in the cost of public employees salary and benefits while at the same time trying to pass legislation that would open Michigan to unlimited cyber-schools and a CEO that earns $5 million dollars?

Whether it is true or not the impression that is given is that certain members of the legislature believe that business will always provide a better value than a public school district.  As a result, business is given a free pass and not asked to control costs in the same way that public schools are being asked to do because the default position of some legislators is that business will always be more efficient.

I would challenge that belief when the salary paid to the CEO of a company that is receiving public funds is  five million dollars.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Lily Pad Lane Open House


Santa visits the Lily Pad Lane Open House at the high school tonight. Our infant and toddler program shared holiday cheer and good wishes with a party this evening.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Deerfield Students Focus on Math

Students at Deerfield talk about perpendicular and parallel line segments using the Smart Board.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Meadows Band Watch on Posterous

Getting ready for the concert! Today at Meadows students put the finishing touches on their music for their next concert.

If we don't like state assessments, how do we measure success?

A recent article in the Washington Post highlighted an adult, a school board member no less, who took the FCAT - Florida's state mandated assessment test. He didn't do well. The article raises once again the question of whether these state mandated assessments are the best way to measure student learning.

This fall, principals in New York have risen up to protest the use of standardized assessments in teacher evaluations. Research, and common sense, supports their view that using a tool designed to do one thing to do something else can be done but it may not be the best or wisest thing to do. I have used a stapler as a hammer before. It worked but it certainly was not the most efficient or effective way to hammer the nail.  State assessments are designed to measure student learning. We are now trying to use them to measure teacher effectiveness and student growth. It probably can be done but is it the best way to accomplish these important tasks.

A third point must also be made. There is money to be made in education - especially in the use of assessments. Pearson, a British company that bills itself as a leader in learning, recently reported that they had sales of approximately $4 billion US dollars and a profit of approximately $732 million dollars (stated in British pounds it looks this way -£2.6bn and operating profit of £469m). Selling tests to school systems is big business. One has to wonder if the push to test every student at every opportunity has more to do with corporate profit than it does with student learning.

Having said all of this, what is my point? I believe that schools have a responsibility to teach students. In saying that it means that we have to be able to show in real ways that students ARE learning. Schools also have a responsibility to measure whether administrators and teachers are being effective. \Administrator and teacher effectiveness has to include a connection to student learning. After all, that is why schools are in business. We cannot say that a teacher is effective if we cannot demonstrate that the students in that teacher's classroom are learning.

If educators, those who have invested their lives in schools and student learning, do not like standardized state assessments and do not believe that these are accurate measures of the learning that is occurring in classrooms, then we have to come up with an alternative. I would argue that the alternative cannot only be idiosyncratic, classroom-specific, teacher created assessments. These can certainly be included but there has to be a way to measure student learning with an external measurement if we are going to convince our parents and community members that students are learning.

Schools exist to help students learn. Administrators and teachers must be able to demonstrate that students are learning in their classroom. Railing against standardized assessments and state mandated tests may feel good but it does not accomplish a lot. I think we should spend more time working to create a system that will help us measure student learning, evaluate the effectiveness of administrators and teachers, and stand up to external critics who question whether students are learning, than we should arguing against the use of standardized tests.

Students come to our schools everyday to learn. We have to have a good, effective way to measure that.

Parents want to know if the teachers who are teaching their children are effective. We have to have a way to measure that.

Taxpayers, politicians, and community members want to know if schools are being effective. We have to have a way to measure that.

If we don't like standardized state assessments, how will we measure success?

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Orchard Hills Music


Who can't have fun in music class? Kindergarten students enjoy Mrs. Gustafson and the welcome song in music class today.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Novi Woods DEN Times


Today students at Novi Woods gathered to see the familiar story of The Three Little Pigs. Instead of focusing on the traditional story this version focused on "beginning with end in mind."

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Rotary Senior Concert and Lunch


Today our middle school students presented a choir and orchestra concert for Novi seniors. A wonderful experience for all.